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Sister's cat attacking everyone, including me!

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Since my sister and I saw coyotes recently, we began to keep our cats inside - she has two, I have two. She moved back in about 7 months ago or so, and her cats didn't like the move. She started letting them out April and they got used to it, and eventually my cats followed. So since last week we began keeping them in. One of her cats since the move has changed so much, he used to be the most gentle cat. When he moved in, he began attacking my cats and not getting along with her other cat. But since we stopped letting them out, he has been a much bigger bully and turned to attacking people, all but my sister. Today when he got out, I went out and got him, everything was fine, I was talking baby talk to him on the way back in the house, it was all very gentle, and he turned and attacked. he scratched my face right by my eye, thank God he missed my eye. I have always treated this cat gently, feed him, take care of him when my sister goes away. I'm so upset. He has always been bad with my cats, but today it's just gone too far. My sister felt badly and so she let him out, she didn't want his bad mood to mean he'd attack others. But I feel like she is rewarding bad behavior, but she doesn't feel like there's any other way. She has always spoiled them and told me no matter what happens to them out there, even if she wants them home and safe, she rather let them do whatever they want so they are happy and that a short and happy life is better than a long one inside the house with some discipline. We disagree on this, but the biggest problem is this behavior. He attacked my mother when she was walking by him the other day, and she couldn't get his claws out of her foot. He even bullies my dog, a german shepherd who is terrified of him. I used to really care for this cat, but I think his lack of discipline has gone to a point where he knows he can get away with anything and will act out if he doesn't get what he wants. Though he will rarely act out on my sister, he's smarter than that. So I'm at a loss of what to do. She doesn't agree with me on the thoughts that she is going ahead and rewarding for bad behavior, so what solution is there if this behavior continues, what else can we do? Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Maybe if letting him out means he doesn't attack any of us anymore, maybe it is better? Thanks so much for any suggestions
post #2 of 8
Sorry for the length...

Although I understand your fruststion, what your sister's cat is doing is NOT personal. He is exhibiting behaviour that indicates either a health or psychological problem and he needs to have the problem alleviated, rather than be disciplined in the conventional human sense of the terms. Cats don't think like us, and although they respond to boundaries if they are consistently applied, behavior modification is often more successful than punishment. So in that vein, I have a few questions:

First, has he been to the vet recently? If he hasn't been, he should be taken in immediately to rule out physical reasons for his aggression. Illness in cats is often hard to detect because their instincts tell them to hide weakness, so when a cat has a major behavioural change, it's important to have them checked out.

Second, how old is her cat? Is he neutered? If he isn't, he should be immediately. Unneutered males can be very aggressive both to people and other cats and it is healthier in the long run for both him and the environment (ie/ unwanted kittens) for him to be fixed.

Third, with physical problems ruled out and if he is already neutered, then it is likely that this is an extremely aplha cat who is under stress by being in a multiple cat environment. Try reintroducing the cats gradually, by separating them for a few days in different parts of the house. Rub each of the cats with a towel, then use it on all the other cats so that they can get used to each other's scent. Let them mix briefly, then separate them, gradually lengthening the time they're together. At the same time, you could try adding a few drops of Bach's remedy to their water... it can help to ease territorial behavior.

Biting can have several causes, and because I don't know the cat's exact background, please bear with me if some of these don't apply. And an overall rule... EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE MUST BE CONSISTENT: a mixed message is no message at all to a cat, so if everyone doesn't co-operate, the cat will continue in its behavior.

1) He was taken away too early from his mother before he could be taught to playfight without hurting (ie/ before 12 weeks of age). Don't "hand" play with him at all: use a stuffed animal to redirect his aggressive play so that he doesn't associate hands or human skin with playfighting. When he bites or attacks, say "NO" very distinctly and firmly (ie/ don't use a pleading tone). Withdraw. If he does it again, repeat the "No" and give him a time out (no more than a few minutes)in another room.

2) He bites when he's playing with you or attacks you when you walk past. This is dominance behavior: he's telling you that he's top cat. the strategy in #1 can help.

3) He bites when being carried on his back or when you rub his tummy: this places him in a submissive position which is an invitation to an alpha cat to bite and for a timid cat to bite out of fear. This is the most vulnerable position for a cat to be in... if he's got issues, avoid doing this to him.

4) He's a high energy cat and not getting enough stimulation: which means he needs a lot of interactive play to tire him out or he channels the energy into acting out boredom. Be sure to give him two good 30 minute play sessions (something that involves running and jumping, like a wand toy) during the day and use #1 if he continues to bite.

5) He has a low stimulation level: some cats just can't take a lot of physical handling. They can signal this by tail lashing, whiskers going back, pupils dilating etc. Sometimes there's no sign... the key is to get to know the cat very well through observation, and back off when he shows annoyance..
post #3 of 8
I agree with most of what D-Tum has to say. Good sensible stuff. You can't say it too often -- cats think like cats much of the time, although they do adopt thought patterns from other species when they are constantly in contact.

But I think I know exactly what is wrong with your cat, because I have had two cats in similar moods. One was the classic newcat problem -- I adopted (or rather my dog did) a female kitten after my 3-year old male, Happy, had gotten used to sharing the house only with me and the dog. Happy went ballistic, and, being really dumb about cats, I tried to punish him, throw him out of the house, chase him with a broom, and otherwise treat him like an irrational criminal. I did everything wrong, and to the end of his days (8 more years actually), he growled around the house and made us all miserable. When he was crushed to death in the jaws of two playful neighborhood labradors, I could see the female cat (Gypsy) give a sigh of relief. And for a few years, she was the only cat. Then I inadvertantly destroyed her calm by adopting the first of many, many kittens and strays. For 4 long years, she attacked me, scratched when I tried to pet her, spat at me, growled, decided she want to sleep on a very high bookcase, and sometimes jumped down like a bomb to deliberately try to hit me or any of the other cats. Several times she even made my bed into her litter box -- a final insult and territorial statement. If I had not loved her so much, and if I had not learned anything from the earlier experience with my first cat, I think I would have had her put to sleep. You could not walk anywhere near her without getting your ankles scratched. I started to keep night lights on in case I inadvertantly ran into her in the dark. She fought with all the other cats. But she didn't move out. She seemed to take a sour pleasure in making everyone tiptoe around her.

I said this went on 4 years. Meanwhile, thanks to observing more and more cats, I took a different tack. I never tried to touch her, but I talked to her soothingly every chance we met or when I was putting her food dish down. Sometimes she would look at me and I could see how hurt she felt, but I didn't try to pet her. The few times I broke down, she leaned her head into my hand and then suddenly seemed to remember that I had destroyed her joy in life and she would lash out.

Around the beginning of the 5th year (last year), she began to sit nearer to me when I was working, or I would wake up in the morning and find she had come onto the bed and curled up by my pillow. This was a little scary, but I didn't try to throw her off and I resolutely turned my face away from her favorite nesting place every night. One night another cat came in and disturbed her and one of them, in the brief fight, clawed my face badly. Panic. But I tried to rearrange the bed in relation to the window (where the cats come in) and kept on tolerating her sleeping by the pillow. Sometime in the winter I started to occasionally give her a brief, and gentle, pat on the head. She accepted this, but growled when I tried to touch her neck or back. I have now worked my way down her back to within about 3 inches of her tail. She still does not tolerate my petting her below that, and she does not want me to touch her legs -- and I am not fool enough to touch her on the belly. She rarely lashes out at me when I am passing her, and never lately uses her claws in any case. If I have petted her enough, she puts one claws-out foot against my hand and then withdraws it.

Enough, she says in her clear body language, I am still hurt by your betrayal with all these cats and now dogs. I'm not ready yet to forgive or forget.

She rarely fights with the other cats now, although she occasionally swipes at a newcat. They learn quickly to avoid her. In fact I learned how to deal with her by watching them. She is getting old now, and I don't know if we will ever reconcile completely, but she is more at ease these days and more relaxed with all the other members of the household.

It is a cliche to speak of jealousy and cats, but it is no joke at all. Those cats that are reared in a multi-cat household recognize that everyone has their own territorial spac and the right to walk around without being attacked. But a cat who has been a single for a while is like a single child with the sudden arrival of a new baby. And sometimes the jealousy can be deadly, as in my Gypsy's case.

So consider not trying to touch your cat, but only talk to him. If you have to pick him up (if he will accept that), then put one hand on the nap of his neck in the classic pick-up hold -- not roughly, but just enough to ensure that he will not suddenly get away with twisting and clawing you. Walk around him. It is only prudent, and permits the cat to feel safe and isolated in his own territorial space. Above all, talk to him as you would a brain-damage child. Sweet, dulcet tones, soothing whispers, gentle sing-songs.

Don't blame the cat and don't you blame your sister (or she, you). Collaborate never to enter the reach of the cat except to feed and talk, and if he lets you, a very brief touch or petting, hand withdrawn slowly, all the time talking baby-talk for you, and hopefully more caressing from your sister, who is his surrogate mother. One last note -- you should both be giving extra attention to your own cats at such a time, and perhaps gradually introduce all of them to mutual pay together (rolling balls, dangly things on sticks...), taking care that the games become interactive instead of your cats and gainst the newcomers... And find separate places for the cats to sleep away from each other. It will give them a sense of safety.

Above all this, patience, patience, patience.

See if it doesn't help.

post #4 of 8
Catherine, I think you are the personification of the word "patience."
post #5 of 8
you have some terrific replies there!

You may also want to check out this article:

Cat Aggression toward People
post #6 of 8
I try to be patient, Jeanie, but some days my blood pressure doesn't cooperate. Nonetheless, I know that all the animals are relaxed and non-agressive when I am calm. If I am not calm, I get that way pretty quickly when the various cat and dog and cat/dog fights begin to break out. With such a large household of constantly shifting members and newcomers, that is the one paramount observation I have made -- cats and dogs can't stand it when mother (or father) isn't cool and patient. They think something is terribly wrong, and they overreact, sometimes spectacularly. If I start getting scratched by the cats, for instance, I examine what kind of signals I'm giving out, and I go into a quiet corner to get myself in hand.

Not the personification of patience, but working hard at it because I love my animals.
post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 
I've been away for awhile and just came back to check e-mails. Such terrific help you all have offered to me. Something great to know others out there not only understand, but go through it also. Thank you each one for your help. Things seem a little better, and I have taken the advise given into mind. I do not try to pet the cat these days, but talk to him calmly and it seems okay. I also expect he is an alpha cat! I keep reading the posts and keep finding more help fom you all. Thanks again! maggie
post #8 of 8
The nice thing about the forums on CatSite is that we help each other -- collectively, the participants have all the information in the world to share, and no one gets proprietal about what they know.

My old lady (the eldest, Gypsy, with all her anger and jealousies) decided to sleep at my back last night. I must have a sixth sense when she is near, because I woke up in the night and, even in the dark, knew it was her. Command to myself -- for god's sake don't roll over on her...

All went well, and she woke me with a soft lick on my nose, then growled to show me that I was still not forgiven, before she went out the window into the garden to start her day. I will not take this gesture for granted, or expect her to become a soppy pussycat, but what a sudden and unexpected reward for my campaign to put her more at ease in the household...
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